Clint's Corner Archive

Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 7/1/2002

In season...

With the Patriots opening training camp in Smithfield, RI later this month (July 22 & July 25), now is as good a time as any to end my offseason hibernation and write my first column of the 2002 season. This will be one of my shorter columns, but that's probably good news to most of you!

My last edition was back on February 12, just 9 days after the Patriots had won the Super Bowl. It's now been nearly six months, and the excitement of the game and the thrill of being a fan of the World Champions have not worn a bit. I still listen to Gil Santos' call of Vinatieri's kick and get chills. My Super Bowl hat is already faded, and there was nothing quite like wearing a World Champion t-shirt to Yankee Stadium, even if the game on the field wasn't football (not even close to football, but I digress).

For the first time in franchise history, the Patriots will open camp not looking to improve upon their prior campaign, but to duplicate it. Sure, the Patriots look a bit better on paper than they did last season, but in the NFL there is but one measure of excellence, and that's winning the Super Bowl. Signing free agents and adding talent via the college draft are actions every team, including the defending champs, undergo to improve themselves. When you are the defending champs, however, you're trying to improve just to do what you did the year before - win the Super Bowl.

Not since the '98 Broncos has a defending Super Bowl champion returned the next season without losing any key players due to free agency or cap problems. The Patriots won the Super Bowl with the 3rd lowest payroll in the NFL, retained all of their key players, signed and drafted some solid talent, and are still in great shape under the salary cap. Who knows how the 2002 Patriots will fair on the football field, but to come into camp off a Super Bowl championship in such sound fiscal and roster health is a huge credit to the work of the entire Patriot organization. From the Belichick/Pioli tandem to the finance team of Mula/Wasynczuk on up to ownership, the Patriots have indeed become a model NFL franchise.

Despite not losing any key players while adding the likes of WR Donald Hayes, TE Christian Fauria, DE Rick Lyle, CB Tom Knight, and rookie 1st round draft choice TE Daniel Graham, the over/under for wins in Las Vegas is a paltry 8.5, and the Pats have been established as 1-point underdogs in their CMGi debut on Monday Night Football against the Steelers. Huh? You can call the 2001 Patriots "lucky" if you wish, but unless we're talking about the '86 Bears or '91 Redskins, all Super Bowl Champions since the AFL/NFL merger have gotten their share of bounces and calls throughout the season and into the playoffs.

Even the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins played what remains the easiest NFL schedule since the inception of the Super Bowl in 1967. The '72 Fish played just 2 of their 14 games against teams with winning records, and both of those teams were a mediocre 8-6. The Dolphins went 8-0 in their division, with the Jets finishing in 2nd place at 7-7. No other team won more than 5 games in the AFC East and 9 of Miami's 14 regular season games were played against teams with 5 or fewer wins.

It's very tough to repeat, as only 7 teams have, but history has shown that it's even tougher to finish .500 or below, as only 6 teams have managed to fall that far from grace after winning a Super Bowl. The '68 Packers, '81 Raiders, '82 49ers, '87 Giants, '88 Redskins, and '91 Giants were the only defending Champions not to finish with a winning record the following season, and it's important to note that the '82 and '87 seasons were both tainted by player strikes. More recently the 2001 Ravens, a shadow of the team that whooped the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, still managed 10 wins and won a playoff game.

If the 2002 Patriots, a better team on paper than the 2001 team, fail to win 9 games, it won't mean that 2001 was a fluke, but it will mean the Pats joining the above mentioned teams as the one of the worst defending Champs in league history. I for one cannot see that happening, but then again I predicted a 7-9 season for the Pats last August.

For my next column right as training camp gets into full swing, I'll chip in with my thoughts on the Bledsoe trade, Tom Brady, the new faces on the team, CMGi Field, and Terry Glenn. Thanks for visiting and I hope you're enjoying a safe and happy summer.